Contrary to what is sometimes claimed, AIME manifests a great deal of sensitivity towards diachronicity. It recognises, for example, that a category mistake between two or more modes may have manifested itself as useful and even appropriate at a particular moment in history.
Of course, the general trajectory in which category mistakes take us is pernicious, whether these are found in science, psychology, religion, or whatever:
It is only gradually, and through the shock waves that reverberate in each of the histories proper to each mode, that we find ourselves lamenting, three centuries later, the simultaneous loss of the sciences, subjects, and gods. (An Inquiry into Modes of Existence, p.260)
(In fact, Latour refers to category mistakes in general as ‘malign inversions’, a term taken from the work of Ivan Illich, denoting the threshold above which some good actually ends up creating more bad than it set out to remove in the first place).
And yet still: with malign inversions, we can at least say that there has been history. That history has to be taken into account. And indeed, the value of such historical awareness, perhaps, is that it enables the inquirer to see that the Moderns, even when their trajectory has been pockmarked by category mistakes, have nevertheless not been entirely hamstrung. They have managed to carry on regardless. Or, to put it another way, in spite of the heritage, they have managed not to lapse into total irrationality, by means of applying to themselves ‘an apparent continuity of action’ (Inquiry, p.261; all subsequent references are to the chapter in [HAB] in the Inquiry).
This continuity of action is what is ensured by [HAB].
I was reminded of [HAB] today by someone mentioning it briefly on Twitter. I’d forgotten about it, to be honest. Maybe that’s the point: after all, ‘forgetting’ is central to its logistical operation.
And yet, as Latour himself says, [HAB] is a mode of existence that we neglect or take for granted at our peril:
It is the most important, the most widespread, the most indispensable of the modes of existence, the one that takes up 99% of our lives, the one without which we could not exist, obsessed as we would be with avoiding category mistakes. The one that allows us to define the courses of action that we have learned to follow through the notion of association networks [NET]. (Inquiry, p.262)
Let’s look at its logistical specification. The function of [HAB] is something like the following:
- It does not ‘forget’ a [PRE].
- And yet, it ‘omits’ or ‘veils’ it (p. 264), in such a way that prepositional hiatuses get ‘smoothed over’ (p. 266), such that what remains in the functioning of a habitual activity is merely a ‘memory’ (p.266) of them, not necessarily a constant foregrounding.
- But crucially, all along it is lithe enough to ‘retrieve’ a [PRE] at any point, should that retrieval be required for a ‘restart’ of the mode in question, for whatever reason (p.267).
So if [PRE] is what signals the trajectory, [HAB] is the dynamic that gets us walking through that trajectory according to the initial direction; this forward-movement is key, for it is not that [HAB] indicates blind or brutish capitulation to a pre-determined leader, but more a rapid or efficient following of where we were going anyway.
So we now have to recognize two different senses in the notion of category mistake: being mistaken about the mode on the one hand and on the other limiting ourselves to the search for the right mode without advancing toward what it indicates. (p.265)
But what is the rationality (or veridiction) of [HAB] per se? And how has it been treated philosophically?
We often will assume that a habit is irrational, because it seems to represent an act of supine ‘following’, rather than of active ‘innovation’ (the ‘speed of thought’ promoted by Deleuze, perhaps). But, in fact, habit has its own rationality. And this idiosyncratic rationality is precisely to ensure this ‘following’ does indeed take place (p.266). What we need, then, are more ‘philosophers of habit’ (p.266), serious thinkers who could re-dignify and re-pristine the quality of habit as a function of lived experience. Félix Ravaisson-Mollien might be one notable exception (to which we might add several of the early Church and medieval mystics, perhaps).
The philosophical integrity and practical usefulness of [HAB], then, will be defined by whether it is grasped in its felicity or in its infelicity conditions:
- [HAB] grasped according to its felicity conditions: these would be habits that enable us to live, but which nevertheless keep us skilful, attentive and alert, and keep the engine of our lives ready for a ‘manual restart’ whenever one should be necessary.
- [HAB] grasped according to its infelicity conditions: these would be habits that make us more obtuse, that promote merely mechanical gestures or routine obeisance. The infelicity condition of [HAB] is akin to spam: messages that are rootless, without addresser or addressee, destined for the trash (p.269).
So what is the macro-contribution of [HAB] within the context of the Inquiry?
I think one thing is that it provides us with a new take on the story of the Moderns. Without [HAB], the bifurcated epistemology of the Moderns is normatively described in that most familiar of Latourian tropes, namely, the confusion of knowing subject/ known object at [REF:REP]. But with the entrance of [HAB] as a category of modal thought, a more charitable explanation of the story of the Moderns can be offered: the Moderns have simply confused [HAB]. They have drunk the liquor of [HAB], succumbing to its intoxicating power to render implicit the vast majority of courses of action. And yet they have over-indulged, now finding themselves too dozy to activate the manual restart that is also with the gift of [HAB], but which requires sober hands to grasp.
Consequently, when we complain that the Moderns do not know how to account for their own riches, we are not trying to extend the critical question, the Socratic question, to their entire anthropology: we are asking, proposing, suggesting that they no longer raise that question, so that all the other keys can be made explicit, each according to its mode. (Inquiry, p.273)
That, I think, is why we need to wake up a little to the quality of [HAB] and investigate its harmonic potential in association with modes such as [REF], [POL], [LAW] (I think of the recent re-interpretation in English law of the ‘joint enterprise’ means of conviction in a criminal case, for example) – but most of all [REL].
And I say that, as I’ve just come out from a service of Evensong, for the nth time of my life. Did [HAB] sustain me?